Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Thank you for visiting and supporting my blog over the past year!

I'm taking a blog break this week to spend time with family and enjoy the season, and I hope you are doing that too. Wishing you a joyful and memorable holiday season. See you back here in 2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three Favourite YA Reads

I love reading YA and this year I read so many great books for my 100 book challenge it was hard to pick out my favourites! Some were recently published, but others go back a few years, because I find out about great books on other blogs as well as while browsing at the library. Some of this year's favourites:

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi - I loved the story and the way the author used the sense of smell (more on this here). I can hardly wait for the sequel!


Cinder by Marissa Meyer - Such a cool concept to mix fairytales and sci-fi. I really enjoyed this one, even though some parts were a bit predictable.

Jane by April Lindner - I love Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and this modern take was really enjoyable.

There were so many other YA books that I enjoyed this year, including:

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I'm looking forward to what's in store for 2013! What was your favourite YA read this year?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Favourite Writing Podcasts

Continuing with the theme of favourites this week, I'm highlighting some great writing podcasts that have given me a lot to think about while cleaning my house, walking my dog or being a Mom taxi.

Writing Excuses - Since I discovered this podcast earlier this year, I've been hooked. This team of writers discusses different aspects of writing in a short podcast with minimal self-promotion or advertising. This is my top pick for writing podcasts.

The Creative Penn - Joanna Penn's podcasts come from her own interests and desire to learn more about the writing and publishing process. It's been interesting to follow her progress with her own books and to be reminded that writers need to take charge of their own careers.

Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors - K.M. Weiland gives lots of great writing tips and resources, which often give me an idea I can use in my own writing.

Other interesting writing podcasts:

Narrative Breakdown from editor Cheryl Klein and video editor and director James Monohan

Brain Burps About Books from children's author Katie Davis

And one I've heard about but haven't tried out yet:  Dead Robot's Society

Monday, December 17, 2012

Three Favourite Middle Grade Reads

I don’t have a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday review for you today. Instead, I thought I’d highlight a few favourite middle grade novels from my 100 book reading challenge this year. It was hard to narrow it down, because I've read so many great middle grade books!

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen - I loved the main character's voice and the plot twists. This was a fun read.

See You at Harry's by Jo Knowles - An emotional story that was hard to put down. I recently featured this one here.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - I loved the poetic language and writing style that fit so well with the gorilla narrator. You can read my thoughts here.

Some other great ones that I read this year:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver
Boys Without Names by Kashmira Seth
The Undergrounders by David Skuy

What was your favourite middle grade read this year?

Friday, December 14, 2012

So Writers Sit Around in Their Pajamas...

Today is Pajama Day at school for some lucky people in my household. Kids are always so excited about wearing pajamas to school - from kindergarteners all the way up. Is it because it's so much more comfortable or because of the thrill of dressing in a way that you don't usually dress? [When I pose this question to my daughter in grade eight, she gives me a typical teen response, "I don't know" accompanied by a shrug.]

The idea of Pajama Day makes me think of that image some people have of writers, sitting around in their pajamas all day drinking coffee (or something stronger), while they scribble out their latest bestselling novel, which will, of course, be immediately snapped up by a publisher.

It's a nice dream anyway.

The reality of my writing life is that by the time I put on my pajamas, my brain is too numb to do anything so I sit like a blob in front of the TV, berating myself for only getting less than 500 words written in small bit of time I had between driving the kids to school and preparing to go to work.

But I think that over the holidays, I'll have a true Pajama Day, where all I do is wear pajamas, drink hot chocolate and curl up with a good book and my writing notebook by my side.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Plotting Tip: Simplify

Novel plots easily become complicated.  First there are all the cool elements that can make the story unique - special objects, amazing talents, surprise connections between characters, an unusual skill or friendship. Then there are the many obstacles needed to create a compelling story: all the threats, break ups with friends, red herrings, things that go missing, thieves or liars -- the list is endless. The trouble is, the more stuff that goes into the novel plot, the more difficult it can be to revise.

I've learned this the hard way.

So my plotting tip for today is to keep the basic plot as simple as possible. It's possible to create a simple storyline but still make the story unique.

Some strategies for keeping it simple:

Keep your character's goal in mind at all times. For my current project, I wrote my main character's wants on an index card and stuck it up by my computer so it's always there to help focus my ideas.

Check to see if obstacles or cool elements fit with the story by asking why. Sometimes I hang onto an obstacle or cool element because I think it makes a story unique, but then struggle to "make it fit" when probably what I should be doing is saving it for another story.

Think about the ending and how it fits with the beginning before plotting out the middle. Once you know where the story is going and what makes sense, then you can figure out how to get there. I find it helpful to work backwards and think about what needs to happen in earlier chapters to set up the ending.

What's your best tip for keeping your plot manageable?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: See You at Harry’s

Today’s pick:  See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Candlewick, 2012

From Amazon:
Starting middle school brings all the usual challenges - until the unthinkable happens, and Fern and her family must find a way to heal.

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. Her dad is always busy planning how to increase traffic to the family business. Her Mom is constantly going off to meditate. Her sister Sarah, who's taking a "gap year" after high school, is too busy finding ways not to work; and her brother Holden is too focused on his new "friend" to pay attention to her. And then there's Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, and the center of everyone's world.

If it wasn't for Ran, Fern's best and oldest friend, there would be nowhere to turn. Ran is always calm, always positive. His mantra "All will be well" is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe.

But when their lives are unexpectedly turned upside down, Fern feels more alone than ever, and responsible for the event that wrenches the family apart. All will not be well. Or at least, all will never be the same.

My Take:

Not many books make me cry, but this one did. I got totally caught up in the story and characters and I had to read it all the way through to find out what happened. This is a moving, heart-breaking story that touches on bullying, fitting in with friends, and family conflicts as well as grief and loss. The cover blurbs from other authors are all true! It’s one of my favourite reads of the year.

As a writer, I’d read this again to study how to write from a first-person point of view. In fact, though I borrowed it from the library, this is a book I’m going to buy for myself and read again.

Favourite quotes:
"From the moment you were born, I could tell you had a special soul. I knew you'd be a good friend. A hero."
“The truth feels like it’s crushing me. Drowning me before I even get up to my knees.”

“Somehow, it makes me feel safe, standing here with my best friend. His arms around me feel like a promise I believe.”

Other info:

Jo Knowles lives in Vermont. Growing up, she always loved writing stories, but didn’t begin to enjoy reading until high school.

On her website, she talks about how important it is for writers to read: “I try to read at least one novel a week. If you want to be a writer, I suggest you try to read a book a week, too. Reading makes us better writers. I’m a firm believer in that.”

 Other books written by this author include:
Pearl (MG)
Jumping Off Swings (YA)
Lessons from a Dead Girl (YA)

For more, visit Jo Knowles’ website.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of the Lost Cities. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Brainstorming Tip: Keep the Writing Flowing

I hate being stuck. Sometimes, I get to a point in my story where nothing is happening. The words I'm writing aren't advancing the story. The story itself seems like the worst thing I've ever written. And the plot has worked itself into a giant tangled mess before I've even gotten to the good parts.

A lot of the writing advice I read says that when this happens, the best thing is to put the story aside for a while and do something else. For me, that can lead to even more time away from the story. You know the saying: "Out of sight, out of mind." After all, there is Christmas baking to do.

Instead of taking a break, I like to think of being stuck as a sign that I need to go back and do some more thinking. There's a reason the writing isn't flowing. It's probably because I took a wrong turn somewhere, and wrote something that sabotaged my story.

What often works for me is to revisit my outline or short summary and rewrite it. First I read through it, finding places where I can ask "Why?" This reminds me of my character's goals and what she wants. Or gets me thinking about different ways to continue on the story path.

The more writing I do, the more important it's becoming to make sure the story is all about what my character wants and how she's going to get it.

Goal Update:

In case you're wondering, here's what I accomplished during November:

1) I came up with 30 ideas for PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), and ended up writing a picture book draft for one idea that wouldn't let go

2) I wrote 10,000 words in my "mini-NaNo" where I was focusing on my new project (Novel # 5). I'm pleased with how much I accomplished, even though I know I'll need to do some serious rewriting.

How did you do? Did you get something accomplished in November?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Eye of the Storm

Today’s pick:  Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

Scholastic, 2012

From the Back Cover:
In the not-too-distant future, huge tornadoes and monster storms are a part of everyday life. No one is safe…except the people who live in Placid Meadows, a one-of-a-kind community that even the worst tornadoes always seem to pass by. Luckily, it’s where Jaden Meggs is about to spend her summer while she attends Eye On Tomorrow, the exclusive science camp that her father’s company created.

At camp, Jaden meets Risha, a new friend with a head for numbers and patterns, and Alex, a boy from a storm-ravaged farm outside Placid Meadows. Together they try to find a way to stop the storms that cause so much fear, but instead they discover a dark secret about Jaden’s father. Soon, a summer of cool science turns into a heart-pounding race to expose the truth and save countless lives when Jaden, Risha, and Alex face down the biggest storm of all.

My Take:

If you’re interested in tornadoes, you’ll definitely enjoy this story! It builds into a fast-paced adventure and mystery that kept me hooked right to the end. This is a sci-fi novel, so there are lots of high-tech gadgets (like the storm simulation devices) but main emphasis in the story is on solving a problem that gets more complicated as the story moves along. The relationships between the characters are realistic and I enjoyed Jaden’s struggle to feel comfortable with her family members and her father. A great story for both boys and girls!

From a writing perspective, it was interesting to see how the author constructed a story where someone important to the main character was acting suspicious. This was a good way to create a lot of tension, but I can imagine it was tricky to balance the main character’s emotions and not let her father become too much of a “bad guy” since, after all, he was her father.  I'd read this story again and again, though, just for the writing. There are lovely phrases here which I didn't always catch the first time through because I wanted to see what happened in the story.   

 Favourite quotes:
"Above the humming of the computer and the beating of my heart and the rain pounding on the window, I hear another sound that makes my heart freeze in my chest."

"It feels like time should have stopped when the storm rose back into the sky, like this problem should be solved forever now that it's gone."

"Because hope has to start somewhere. And a glimmer is better than nothing at all."
Other info:

Kate Messner lives near Lake Champlain.
On her website Q and A, Kate Messner writes about how she records ideas: "I carry a notebook with me, so when I have an idea, I can scribble it down right away before I forget."

She also explains why she writes for kids: "I believe the books we read as kids are books that help shape us, in a way that adult books can't quite do, no matter how beautifully they are written."
Kate Messner's other books are also great reads! To see my thoughts on another one of her books check out: Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. 

Other books written by this author include:
Capture the Flag, 2012
Sugar and Ice, 2010
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., 2009

For more, visit Kate Messner’s website.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by author Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!